Monday, 25 May 2015

Jake Wyatt's gorgeous fantasy webcomic, 'Necropolis,' begins anew, with print editions to follow

Jake Wyatt's hugely attractive web-comic, Necropolis, is back, complete with a print publishing deal. If I remember correctly, Wyatt originally began posting pages of the fantasy comic on Tumblr last year (if not further back), where I caught bits of a young girl travelling with a horse through a a vast, abandoned city fighting off demons and creatures with her sword. The comic didn't get that far, story-wise and was sporadic in updating, and Wyatt got busy with other work- most notably, a delightful but short run on Ms Marvel, but he's now returned with further news. Not only has he been working on the comic and amassing a backlog of pages to post, it appears he's now acquired publication deals with Image and French publishers Casterman respectively, with physical copies going to print after the completion of each volume, although Wyatt warns that this may be a while -no doubt due to his workload. Prior to that Waytt will serialise Necropolis online as originally planned, from the very beginning, which makes it easy for everybody to pick up and follow. Again, I'm not sure if it's simply due to seeing it again after a while, but the pages look even better than before- cleaned up, with changes in the colouring, too, which looks brighter, deeper -and more intuitive. 

From its prologue, Necropolis is set up to be an epic, magical tale of fantasy, full of myth and lore.  A rich land brimming with wonders and curiosities -both dark and bright- ruled in peace by an emblematic and powerful King and Queen for many, many years. But that time seems to have long passed, and Necropolis is now a much different and less safer place. You can start reading the comic here- there's a full prologue and a few pages up already, which Wyatt adding new installments every Wednesday. I'm curious to see where the story leads, but most of all I really like Wyatt's beautiful, charming style. It feels redundant to say it's a blend of Japanese and French influences, because so much is incorporated within the umbrella of those labels, and influences are fluid and symbiotic. The intricacy and attention to costume and background design helps flesh out his world, and the fine, controlled line that uses gaps and a lot of flecked dashes for texture and dynamism is very appealing. Definitely one to follow on Tumblr, and I imagine the print editions when they roll around will be a handsome thing to behold.

Friday, 22 May 2015

Patrick McHale and Jim Campbell to publish new 'Over the Garden Wall' mini-series

Patrick McHale and Jim Campbell will be publishing a new Over the Garden Wall mini-series this summer, under Boom's all-ages imprint, KaBoom! The 4-issue mini-series will be set set between the third and fourth episodes of the animated series, and take brothers Wirt and Greg on another adventure through the woods of the Unknown. Over the Garden Wall is a 10-episode cartoon series created by McHale, which aired on the Cartoon Network last November, as somewhat of a landmark as the network's first original animated miniseries. Centering around half-brothers Wirt and Greg (voiced by Elijah Wood and Collin Dean), the two become lost in a strange forest called the Unknown, and in order to find their way home, must travel across the apparently magic forest, with the dubious help of the is-he-friend/is-he-foe old Woodsman (Christopher Lloyd) and Beatrice (Melanie Lynskey), an irritable bluebird.

It was one of the best things I watched last year: gorgeously animated, and perfect in tone- a mix of wonder and fear, odd whimsy, imbuing semi-familiar facets with new interpretations whilst being fun and interesting. Greg and Wirt's relationship is at the heart of the story, and in particular the age difference between the two and the way that affects their dynamic. Wirt's older, and beginning to worry about the world, anxious about his feelings and his place, whilst Greg is irresistible in his optimism and lively imagination- they keep each other balanced, somewhat. The little ditties and music in each episode were instrumental in making the series special, so much so that when Boom released a one-shot tie-in comic (also written by McHale and illustrated by Campbell) in conjunction with the airing of the show, it included song-sheets. That comic was very good, so I'm thrilled to see there'll be more. For those who haven't haven't watched the show, McHale talked to Hero Complex about setting up the comic for audiences both familiar and unfamiliar with the cartoon:

'I don’t know if most people who read it will have seen the series, but I’m sort of assuming a lot of people who are reading the comics will have, so there are certain things we can kind of give away earlier. Like maybe Beatrice can say things that will make the more knowing audience be like “Oh, that’s going to be revealed later,” and setting that up even more. I’m speaking very vague.

But also I think they should be able to stand alone if you haven’t seen the show. We’re trying to do it so that you can still know who the characters are and follow [the story] just if you pick [the comic] up. With the show we tried to do that too. Even though it was a continuing story, each episode stood alone as its own little tale.'

The first issue of  the mini-series is due for release in August.

Comics shelfie: Lala Albert

It's that other time of the month, where This time, it's the excellent Lala Albert, author of many an excellent comic- Alien Invasion, In the Up Part of the Wave, Paranoid Apartment, Janus,  and most recently, R.A.T. (a review of which was published on this very blog yesterday)- who is taking us on a tour of her bookshelves and talking about some of her influence or favourite books and artists. i appreciate Lala's work a lot- not only the specificity of her style which I really enjoy looking at, particularly the way she draws women, untraditional renderings that free them from the trappings of conventional attractiveness and associations so they're almost alien in nature. The main reason I like Lala's comics are that they push me- they're smart and different and I don't always understand them, but never obfuscating for the sake of it. It's nice to read things that you know you enjoy and within your comfort zone, but it's essential, too. to expand and grow. I feel, along with Sloane Leong's work, this is probably the direction comics are going in, perhaps and that these artists are ahead and already there, and at some point the rest of us will comprehend and catch up.

Over to Lala for the interesting stuff:

'Hello here's my shelf!

​I don't have too massive a collection right now. A combination of moving a few times in the last few years, only sorta recently getting into comics and also impulsively getting rid of things whenever I try to re-arrange keeps me contained to this one bookshelf in my bedroom (plus whatever piles up around (trying to keep everything I haven't read yet limited to this stool and a box under my bed at the moment)).

On the top two shelves I have some writey books, books I made and also information and guide books. I haven't been buying much lately..I usually prefer to go to the library or spend all my time on the internet instead of reading, so my collection's a mix of stuff I got in highschool and what I've kind of stumbled upon in the last few years. I also haven't finished about a third of what's on the shelf and will probably do a trade-in at the used book store once I get through it.

A prize from the top shelf is this big folder where I keep all the art and things I've gotten in the mail from friends or doodles/jam drawings they've left in my apartment. I don't visit it as much as I should but it's nice to know it's up there and is probably worth millions (just kidding I'll keep it all forever).

Thursday, 21 May 2015

Watching you watching me: Lala Albert's R.A.T.

The standard at which Lala Albert is currently operating is such that even with an ostensibly more accessible comic -linear 'story' focused narrative, more 'formed art'- she creates a simultaneously fun and arch tale that addresses several contemporary social issues. Surveillance, a growing lack of privacy, the role of technology within that spectrum hover as background themes to related, specific topics of voyeurism, power, control, and abuse.

R.A.T. is a program that allows its users access to webcam streams -in addition to a facility where you can see who is using the program and what they are 'ratting' (watching). Unbeknownst to her, Candy is the subject of one such RAT, a man who watches her continuously, his intrusion and voyeurism made easier because Candy remains ever connected and never turns off her computer. Typically, he cites this as a way to slide blame onto her, 'sometimes I think she downloaded the file on purpose,' even as he's aware of what he's doing and that it's wrong; calling the people he rats on 'victims.' Candy isn't his lone victim, but his 'favourite.'

Albert tattoos a familiar pattern of abuse and exploitation: the invasion of privacy is only attractive to the man when the subject is unknowing and unwilling, when he has power or control over the watching, and the ability to build and project his own fantasies and narratives around those he spies on. When Candy's own interest and boredom leads her to investigate the R.A.T program, she discovers one of the streams is her own webcam, and that a RAT is watching her. Post the initial shock, she decides to turn the tables: even the field and lets him know she's aware he's there: pulling funny faces at the screen and holding up messages. The man appears disturbed and unnerved- this isn't what he wanted. Not only does he lose control of the image, and the narrative he's constructed around watching Candy's silent activities- whilst she's unknowing, he can make her subservient, he can be in charge. Her silly, unfazed, and commanding response shatters those illusions. There's surprise too in the realsiation that she's a real, actual person; spending so much time online has led to a reduction and objectification of humanity and personhood.

Candy's response isn't nonchalance or product of a systemic apathy and ignorance of surveillance; she's taking back control of her violation and thus ridding her abuser of any power. It's interesting to see the difference presented between Candy and her friend's attitudes towards the R.A.T program and the man's. Candy's suggestion that they try it out doesn't enthuse her friend- 'our lives are all so boring anyway.' Flicking through a few screens, Candy agrees, (even as she flicks past some people having sex), but seems to understand that fundamentally, the issue isn't one of boring or exciting, but of watching without consent- while the lack of consent is precisely what the man is getting off to -regardless of how mundane the activity.

Albert's art has always been instrumental in creating a particular mindscape of feeling- pushing the reader a little towards a state that facilitates an openness to her ideas.  The way she draws faces in particular- sometimes very taut and skull shaped, sometimes just a little too wide, makes them malleable to take on shifts in tone and expression: leaving the reader onguard about seating characterisation. The spiky, thin lines. are similarly anticipatory- something is going to happen. She interlays and interposes images to vivid, skewy effect here, helping to really anchor liet motifs of eyes and screens, reflections, seeing. There's a fantastic punch of an image where the man is watching this vast multi-screen that show Candy doing a variety of things; the power-play and suggestion is wonderfully balanced so that he's semi-placed in a position of charge (although it's very like an outdated villain in a movie), yet the pages is filled with Candy, looming and enormous; the oncoming storm.

Wednesday, 20 May 2015

Soaring Penguin Press bring Boulet's 'Notes' series to English

I've been catching up with any interesting comics news post-Canada trip, and easily the most exciting announcement I missed was UK publishers Soaring Penguin Press acquiring the English language rights to French comics superstar Boulet's Notes. The Notes series is the print collections of Boulet's (real name Giles Roussel) hugely popular and acclaimed webcomics, which have deservedly bought him international fame, and so far runs to nine volumes in its native France where it's published by Delcourt. Soaring Penguin Press' Nora Goldberg informs me that the deal is for the whole series, with the first volume due for release in April 2016, with book 2 following in October of the same year. The plan is to release a volume every 6 months or so until the English language editions have caught up with the French. This is really good news and a great get for Soaring Press, too- they've been quietly translating more European comics: last year Regis Loisel's Peter Pan and Newt by Nicolas Mahler and Heinz Wolf, with more planned for 2015, and no doubt this will help boost their stable and visibility.

I've talked about Boulet's work often, and regularly lamented the fact that more of his work isn't available in English (the only book I can think of is his spectacular 24 hour comic, Darkness/Noirnesss, that AdHouse published last year), so I'm genuinely thrilled with this overdue news, and hope it might push others into picking up even more of his works. However, instead of regurgitating more praise on what makes Boulet's work special, I thought I'd share this interesting snippet I came across written by the man himself as he describes the beginning of his career in comics, and how his webcomic came into being:

'I started almost 15 years ago, while I was still studying in Art School in Strasbourg. At this time I had some occasional jobs with a magazine called Tchô !  I worked with them for about 10 years, producing 13 comic books for young public during this time. I was contacted then by Lewis Trondheim and Joann Sfar to work on their series Dungeon, I realized 2 albums with them (later these 2 albums were translated in a unique volume in english, called Back in Style)

During all this time I never stopped drawing on sketchbooks, telling stories about me, my life, and any idea that was going through my head. So in 2004 I started a webcomic with this material. It quickly became famous: about one year later, it got 7000 unique visitors every day. So I went on. I drew more stories every week in total improvisation. Like some sort of comic stand-up comedy. Eight years later, the average day is around 50 000 unique visitors/day.

During these 8 years I drew almost 1500 pages, which I finally got published in 2008. This series, called Notes, is now up to 7 volumes, with 2 more to come. In 2010 I decided to start an English version (just as a personal achievement, to see if my work would meet a public out of France). The beginning was tough because it asked a lot of organization between me and the benevolent translators. I finally gave up the outside help and decided to translate it by myself. The English page (, even with my awkward translations, is now up to about 8000 unique visitors/day.'

Tuesday, 19 May 2015

Comics, and Canada

I thought I'd document all the comics I bought recently from Canada. What initially started out as a trip to attend the Toronto Comics Arts Festival turned into a slightly longer holiday. I didn't really have any plans to write a post-convention report going in, and I don't have one now; the aim was to simply have a break and enjoy the experience unfettered. But some quick notes:

  • The atmosphere at TCAF was different to anything that I've previously encountered at comics festivals; not sure if this is down to a cultural thing, the heat, or the make up of attendees being anybody who walks through the door or wants to use the library (the library services stay open for patron's use), but the best I can describe it was that it was flatter. Part of this was also because it was more business-like- it felt very sales orientated, as opposed to people-orientated. This was my first non-British comics event, and I'm used to people in the UK being very British in approach and talking to people and being more casual. Which sounds daft, because everybody is there to sell comics and people are there to buy them, but it felt more hard-nosed. I'm sure others felt differently.
  • I really, really liked that the venue has plenty of space for people to sit down. One of the nicest things was being able to take a break within the convention space to rest for a bit, and seeing other people pulling out books to read, to share what they'd bought, or chatting to those they'd met up with specifically for the festival. I think this is an aspect quite a few events need to improve on- generally you're at a convention for a few hours at least and spending it all on your feet is exhausting. Once you leave to find reprieve, you're more reluctant to return, so seating helps with keeping people at the con, as well as adding another dimension to the event overall.
  • Related: the location is also fantastic because it has a tonne of good places to eat at surrounding it. Food provision is also often overlooked at cons- there may be a few food vans or stalls, or nothing at all, meaning you have to travel to grab something. Again, as a comics fan, I attend a con with the plan to be there for a while, which means I'll need food. I'm guessing the same applies to exhibitors. Unsure where packed lunches factor into this, but it's certainly not something I want to be thinking of on top of all else. Both this and the seating issue may seem minor, but they're absolutely not. And in a time where there are new events and festivals cropping up with rapidity, it's important for cons to differentiate and offer better. The option and facility to take a break and regroup -whether for food or else- should be standard.
  • In terms of attendees, it was easily the most diverse show I've attended, which was great to see. 
  • The range of guests was really good, and impressively accessible. I didn't notice huge queues at any particular point. There was a long one of maybe 13 people for Charles Burns at one point- but that's doable. One of the things I noticed whilst in Toronto is that people seem to get up pretty late? A lot of the shops, business, places we visited had opening times that started at 11am. With the festival starting at 10 -we got there at about 10:30, it was still filling up and it was easy to get to see whoever you wanted.
  • I'm unsure how exhibitor space is allocated, but some areas were really tight to navigate and hard to get into. The Wowee Zonk room was filled with great artists, but the first time I attempted it, it was heaving and there was absolutely no chance (or space) of stopping to look at tables- we were propelled by the crowd to the exit. The second time wasn't much better either. The same applies to exhibitors arranged at the funnel of the stairs on the second floor- perhaps the thinking is that as people will have to pass them, it provides more visibility, but being able to stop there to look and browse while masses of people are streaming to pass you is difficult.
  • The newspaper program was good, and helpful in listing exhibitors, table numbers, panels, and so forth.
  • The TCAF 'pop-up' shop at the reference library is excellent: wonderful selection of comics, art books, prints, and related material- it's excellent news that that will now be a permanent fixture. It's as good as, and better, than some dedicated comic book shops that I've seen.  
  • Annie Koyama is as rad as everyone says she is. It's highly suspicious.
  • A lot of people asked me what I thought and how I was liking TCAF and I replied 'overwhelming' a lot because I didn't know what to say. I lied: I wasn't overwhelmed, it was simply tough to immediately articulate my feelings. I liked the festival overall- I bought a tonne of comics (see below), and it was so good to be able to meet a lot of people I respect and/or whose work I admire, -apart from Michael DeForge who blatantly IGNORED me- but there was something I can't quite put my finger on- a lack of cohesiveness, maybe? I don't know. It's very likely it's just me. All else was fine. 

I've split this post into two categories: purchases made at the Beguiling, and purchases made at TCAF. The majority of what I got from The Beguiling is all older comics, hard to find, out of print, things that have been on my mental list, or whatever looked interesting. It's a superbly curated shop, and there's a truly vast range of material fitted into what's essentially a pretty compact space, even over two floors. I'm not sure if it was TCAF related in that they're the people who run it, and must get a lot of visitors around that time, but it was quite messy and dark. The lighting on the lower floor (which I think is windowless, or the window is covered) in particular is sort of dingy. Labelling of sections could be much better- there's cardboard markers in bookshelves with felt-tipped headings. My view on comics shops is that anyone should be able to walk in and books be accessible to them at least in terms of clearly marked areas of interest/genre/etc. But you can't fault the stock.

Oliver and I spent a lot of time going over in our heads how much luggage allowance and money we had, which books would probably be easy to get hold of in the UK, but we both ended up buying a load anyway. One of the highlights of the trip was visiting The Beguiling twice, hunting for books and then eating at Butler's Pantry just a few feet away- they do some delicious fish cakes and samosas. Also the first time I've had coke in a jar...

The Beguiling:

The Unexpected Adventures of Bernard Mergendeiler, and Boy, Girl, Boy, Girl by Jules Feiffer- I like Jules Feiffer a lot- probably more early Jules Feiffer than anything
A Cabbage in a Nutshell by Tin Can Forest
Batman: The Mask of the Phantasm official movie adaption by Kelley Puckett, Mike Parobeck, Rick Burchett and Rick Taylor
Wolverine: The Jungle Adventure by Mike Mignola, Walter Simonson, and Bob Wiacek- slowly trying to get hold of all Mignola's obscured 90's past. I think this is still easy to get on sites like Ebay, but it was there, so.
Billie by Sarah E. Byam and Tim Sale
The Ice Wanderer and Other StoriesA Distant Neighbourhood volume 1 by Jiro Taniguchi- My appreciation for Taniguchi has been something that's crept up on me. He's never previously stood out as someone I'd think of naming as one of my favourite authors, but recently I've read more of his work and now am finding I've enjoyed everything he's done- his work is probably the definition of beautifully understated which helps it fly  under the radar. It can suck to be late to the party, though, as a lot of his early books are now out of print, such as A Distant Nieghbourhood, above.

Batman: Strangest Cases by Denny O'Neil, Neal Adams, Len Wein, Berni Wrightson, Dick Giordano and more
Elektra Lives Again by Frank Miller and Lynn Varley- hardback oversized edition, which made it tough to turn down. The Miller Elektra books are ones I've been meaning to get around to reading eventually, and seeing attractive editions of them pushed me into actually buying them.
Elektra Assassin by Frank Miller and Bill Seinkiwicz- signed by Seinkiwicz. There were a few paperback editions of this but I liked the cover on this one best.
The Bus by Paul Kirchner- this hardback collection is really hard to get hold of for a reasonable price, and despite it being available online in full, it's one of those that I like enough to want a print copy of.
Picture book, and Sunny print, by Taiyo Matsumoto (free with purchase)- I was really after The Art of Ping Pong the animation book, but apparently they'd sold out of them all. Trying desperately not to fall down the rabbit hole of beginning to buy comics and picture books in languages I can't understand, but fighting a losing battle.

The Cowboy Wally Show by Kyle Baker- Baker's another of those brilliant authors whose oeuvre I'm collecting. Was previously confused by the many editions of The Cowboy Wally Show, but it appears they're all the same, just printed at different times with different covers. I wish DC would collect and release his Plastic Man run properly.
Heartbroken Angels 1 and 2 by Masahiko Kikuni- never heard of this before but the covers and design were intriguing. You can't tell from my poor photography, but they're little hardbacks with metallic, fuzzy blurred cover art.
Sparrow by Jim Mahfood- I didn't know the Sparrow books were so tiny? The Beguiling had a few, but Jim Mahfood was the only artist I liked.


Missy 3, and Middle School Missy by Daryl Seitchik- it was so cool to be able to meet Daryl in person- she's the best- and hear about secret upcoming stuff which you should all keep an eye out for.
The Dark Nothing, and The Clouds Above special edition by Jordan Crane- The Dark Nothing was a TCAF debut, limited to 200 copies, and I don't have The Clouds Above, and this gorgeous limited, special edition was impossible to resist. I believe it has interlocking dust jackets that when put together make a larger design? Crane is easily one of the best print book designers in the business- everything feels attended to and special.
Mother, and Seed by Celine Loup
In A Succulent Universe, Nature Nurture, Forest Tales 1 and 2, Witches Brew by Jen Tong- I'd never come across Jen Tong's work but she works with screenprint and riso a lot, and it largely seems to be heavily image or nature focused, both of which I'm really into at the moment.

A Distant Neighbourhood volume 2, Summit of the Gods volume 1, A Zoo in Winter by Jiro Taniguchi-  As mentioned, a lot of English language Taniguchi is either out of print really hard to get hold of in the UK for some reason- A Zoo In Winter, for example is currently selling for £40+ on various sites. We chatted to someone at the Fanfare/Ponent Mon booth about the early volumes of Summit of the Gods being out of print and he said they were looking to re-issue them, but didn't know when it would happen. I looked into starting the series a while back -it's now on book 5- but couldn't get the early volumes; Oliver was super kind and bought me the first volume, which is the most expensive to get hold of. I'd picked up the first volume of A Distant Neighbourhood at The Beguling the previous day, so it made sense to get the second book, too.
Emily Carroll Benign Kingdom artbook- Again, this is an older publication, but one I don't have. I actually met Emily, and Kate Craig  -whose comics I also really like-, on the way to The Beguiling and assumed they would be at the festival, but I don't think they were.
Sea Urchin by Laura Knetzger- looking forward to reading this. Laura Knetzger's producing some ace comics work.
Sorry by Leslie Hung
Fuck Wizards by Eleanor Davis- fun porn, and a little piece of original art!

Golemchik by William Exley
Cyber Realm by Wren McDonald
Advice Comics 1 anthology by various- there's a Tumblr for this here
Indoor Voice by Jillian Tamaki
Diary Comics by Dustin Harbin
A Body Made of Seeing by Sloane Leong- talked a bit with Tucker Stone about how amazing Sloane Leong's work is- she, along with Laura Knetzger and Sophia Foster- Dimino feel like 3 cartoonists who are operating at a level above everyone else right now, in very different ways to each other. So good to see and be part of as a reader.
Lovers Only #1 by Sophia Foster Dimino, Cathy G Johnson, and Mickey Zacchilli

Object 10 by Killian Eng- I'm a big fan of Swedish illustrator Eng's work; Floating World were kind enough to send me his earlier artbook, Object 5, which is very reflective of his progress, and this one really shows how much he's developed since then. I'm going to try and do a double review at some point.
It Will All Hurt #3 by Farel Dalrymple- final installment, the print edition debuted at the show
Miss Don't Touch Me by Kerascoet and Hubert- I had the paperbacks NBM originally put out when they translated this, and have been meaning to upgrade to the hardback, album-sized edition as it' a book I love, and seeing it in the flesh made it tough to resist.
Spera Ascension of the Starless by Josh Tierney, Afu Chan, Giannis Milonogiannis and more- Archaia books are tough to get hold of in the UK generally
Apocalyptic Girl by Andrew MacLean- read this in the hotel- the art and colours are so impressive but it's really let down by the story.
RAT  by Lala Albert- I met Lala! She was so cool, and I was hot and tired.
Metaphor by Katie Parrish- been following Katie's work online for a few months- I didn't know she'd be at the festival. People seemed to be taking to her work.
Pope Hats #4 by Ethan Rilly

I also picked up Joe Decie's new comic -at least I thought I did; we got caught up in chatting and I don't really remember- which he was giving away for free(!), but for the life of me I can't find where I've put it.

Friday, 1 May 2015

With pound in hand: May comic and graphic novel releases

Here we go; picking out the cream of this month's releases, in graphic novels, collected editions and anything else notable:

PICK OF THE MONTH: Furari by Jiro Taniguchi, Fanfare/Ponent Mon: This has been delayed for a while, as anyone perusing  book listing websites on a regular basis will know. But there's now a 4-page preview on publisher Fanfare/Ponent Mon's site, and a mid-May release seems imminent. I made the mistake of sitting on Taniguchi's Summit of the Gods series, to the point where the early volumes are now very hard to find at reasonable prices, so I'll be nabbing a copy of this as soon as it's out. In the vein of Taniguchi's Walking Man, Furari sees another protagonist take the reader on a journey as he strolls around from place to place in a Tokyo of days past. Inspired by a historical figure, Tadataka Ino (1745 – 1818), Taniguchi invites us to join this unnamed but appealing and picturesque figure as he wanders, now retired from business. He surveys, measures, draws and takes notes whilst giving free rein to his taste for simple poetry and his inexhaustible capacity for wonder. 

Alone vol 3: The Clan of the Shark by Bruno Gazzotti and Fabien Vehlmann, Cinebook: It's frustrating and befuddling to me that more people aren't reading this series because it's so good. This third volume sees the five Campton children leave their town, travelling to neighbouring cities by bus, desperately looking for other living humans. All they find are deserted settlements, burned forests and packs of feral dogs... Until one day they discover an amusement park filled with kids, all found and gathered by Saul, the owner’s son. A strange, authoritarian child who worships the park’s great white shark, and whose arbitrary rules are not at all to the taste of the newcomers… (Reviews of book 1 here, and book 2 here).

Corto Maltese: Beyond the Windy Isles by Hugo Pratt, IDW: I'm looking forward to this one like a tall refreshing drink, or a cool shower after a day in the sticky heat. This is the second volume of IDW's bid to definitively translate the whole of Corto Maltese into English provides the opportunity for readers new to Hugo Pratt to familairise themselves with his finest creation.  ' "Mushroom Heads" begins in Maracaibo, Venezuela, where Corto Maltese and Professor Steiner lead an expedition on the trail of the legendary El Dorado, financed by the antiquarian Levi Colombia. In "Banana Conga," Corto has his first and nearly fatal encounter with the beautiful yet dangerous mercenary Venexiana Stevenson. Within this framework of adventure, Hugo Pratt weaves themes dealing with the exploitation of indigenous people, the noble struggle to gain freedom and independence, and how cowardice can poison men of all classes. The action, set in 1917, takes Corto Maltese from the Mosquito Coast to Barbados to a deadly struggle among Jivaro head-hunters in the Peruvian Amazon.'

Nimona by Noelle Stevenson, Harper Collins: I'm slow with web-comics and bad at keeping up with them in general, so Noelle Stevenson had gotten quite a way through serialising Nimona online when she announced it would be published as a book. I prefer reading things in chunks and also in print, so I decided to wait for the book's release and as with most things, it's come around fast.  Stevenson has a lovely delicate line and a cheeky sense of humour, so it'll be interesting to see how a longer work from her fares. This print edition features an exclusive epilogue not seen in the web comic, along with bonus conceptual sketches and revised pages throughout. 'Nimona is an impulsive young shapeshifter with a knack for villainy. Lord Ballister Blackheart is a villain with a vendetta. As sidekick and supervillain, Nimona and Lord Blackheart are about to wreak some serious havoc. Their mission: prove to the kingdom that Sir Ambrosius Goldenloin and his buddies at the Institution of Law Enforcement and Heroics aren't the heroes everyone thinks they are. But as small acts of mischief escalate into a vicious battle, Lord Blackheart realizes that Nimona's powers are as murky and mysterious as her past. And her unpredictable wild side might be more dangerous than he is willing to admit.'

SuperMutant Magic Academy by Jillian Tamaki, Drawn and Quarterly: Does anybody still need introducing to Jillian Tamaki's SuperMutant Magic Academy? Tamaki has been publishing the strips online over the past four years, a look into a prep-school for mutants and witches in which the students actually behave like teenagers, with their problems and concerns a more pressing concern than magical or paranormal shenanigans. 'Tamaki paints a teenaged world filled with just as much ennui and uncertainty, but also with a sharp dose of humor and irreverence, playing superhero and high school Hollywood tropes against what adolescence is really like. This volume collects the most popular strips from the webcomic along with a selection of all-new, never-before-seen material.'

Black River by Josh Simmons, Fantagraphics: Josh Simmons returns with his first full-length graphic novel since 2007’s acclaimed House. Black River follows a group of women, one man, and two dogs as they make their way through 'a post-apocalyptic world in search of a city that supposedly still has electricity and some sort of civilization. Along the way, they go to a comedy club, take a drug called Gumdrop, and encounter gangs of men who are either fools, lunatics, or murderous sadists. In other words, all manner of terrors.' Stripping people to their bare vestiges is one of the core themes in Simmons' work, and there are few things that facilitate that than a post-apocalyptic, each-man-for-himself survival situation.

The Hunter by Joe Sparrow, Nobrow: I've had the pleasure of reading an advance copy of this (review soon), so I can attest to its quality. My preference has always be towards lengthier works, but I have a new appreciation for impressive 20-odd page comics that give you just enough to dig into and chew over.  'In a time centuries before our own, one arrogant hunter has grown bored of sport. Only the legends of a mythical beast excite him now, but when he goes hunting for the creature he quickly discovers that he is outmatched. Because this beast is not any mythical animal but is composed of all the hunted prey killed in the past, and it is most certainly out for revenge.'

Dream Fossil: the complete stories of Satoshi Kon, Vertical: There's been somewhat of a surge of English language translations of Satoshi Kon's work: Dark Horse released Opus and Seraphim earlier this year and are due to publish another collection, the 'Art of Satoshi Kon' in August, but prior to that Vertical have this retrospective in shops. Featuring his first comic Toriko, the 1984 short that won that year's Chiba Tetsuya Award for the Best New Comic Artist of the Year, and other early comic works created before he  embarked on his career as an acclaimed director.

Exquisite Corpse by Penelope Bagieu, First Second: A romance-mystery revolving around the world of writers and publishing, in Bagieu's lovely fine, expressive fluid cartooning style is something that sounds like a very enjoyable hour. 'Zoe isn't exactly the intellectual type, which is why she doesn't recognize world-famous author Thomas Rocher when she stumbles into his apartment...and into his life. It's also why she doesn't know that Rocher is supposed to be dead. Turns out, Rocher faked his death years ago to escape his critics, and has been making a killing releasing his new work as "lost manuscripts," in cahoots with his editor/ex-wife Agathe. Neither of them would have invited a crass party girl like Zoe into their literary conspiracy of two, but now that she's there anyway...well, as it turns out, both Thomas and Agathe think Zoe is awfully cute. Zoe doesn't know Balzac from Batman, but she's going to have to wise up fast...because she's sitting on the literary scandal of the century!'

Wednesday, 29 April 2015

Something pretty: Christophe Blain's King Kong

King Kong, illustrated by Christophe Blain, adapted by Michel Piquemal, published by Albin Michel

I finally got my hands on one of the books that's been on my list of 'stupidly priced out of print books to buy when and if possible' for a while: Christophe Blain's adaptation of King Kong. Published in 2004, it's a 44-page children's picture book simply re-telling Merian C. Cooper and Edgar Wallace's famed tale. My interest in it is based solely on French cartoonist Blain's art, whose work I have a real passion for; he's easily one of my top favourite and best artists. I always admire artists who are open to taking on new subjects and methods, and it's something I appreciate about Blain; he's authored pirate tales, westerns, political memoirs, cooking books, naval potboilers, and more. That breadth seems to make artists stronger and better, and the caliber of Blain's work would attest to that hypothesis. Blain's work -or certainly what's available of his work in English- is perhaps most commonly associated with certain, defining characteristics: movement, expression, humour, dynamism, looseness of line, but if you look at his illustration pieces: posters he's done for festivals etc., his approach differs a little, something which is reflected here. If you're expecting a more standard, full-on Blain experience, that's not what this is, but Blain being as good as he is, still manages to make an impact and weave a peculiar magic with it.

The cover here itself is incredibly striking- the blocky red font really pops against the deep turquoise/teal/glossy black of Kong, tying back in with the red-clad figure of Ann in Kon's palm. The decision to use the greeny/blue sheen for Kong's skin throughout is one that seems small, but makes a significant difference in terms of what you're seeing- rendering him in full black would be an entirely different inference. Picture books are often very similar to comics in that their art is acting as narrator and also sequential, and this is a wonderful example of one with Blain interposing two different types of illustration; alternating between clear and simple 4-panel comic grids and full page spreads.

The comic pages are more in line with the style that's become synonymous with Blain: bubbly, clear-lined, cartoony, although it is more subdued here and weighted down with shadowy pencils, and are a neat use of narrative; really layering in further story considering the text is a very condensed version. At the same time he's aware of his intended audience, so does keep them simple, in terms of composition or multiple elements in frame. The single and double page images give Blain more room to fles and are much more impressionistic: smokier, smudged pastel-like textures that cleverly -by never really giving solid outline or shape to Kong's gargantuan mass- have the effect of making him seem even bigger- mythic and uncontainable. They add to the ominous atmosphere, set up ambiance, and feed the tragic tone of the story.

As much as I love the drama of the latter illustrations: the raw spectacle and feeling of Kong chained on stage, the fateful climb, the defiant last stand fighting off aeroplanes atop the Empire State building, the inevitability of the final fall; probably my favourite illustration here is the simple minimalist approach of Kong as he's overcome after being shot at with tranquilizers. I love the hazy drowsiness of Kong, the bowed posture as he leans heavily on his arms; the giant overcome, which poignantly reflects his state, the capture of this magnificent beast. He loses colour and form as he's drugged and losing consciousness, and it's telling that this is the only page that Blain chooses to bathe in light-  to all intents and purposes his capture is his end, and there's something so intrinsically sad and evocative about it. It's a sublime image.

I don't want to go on too much here- Blain's the kind of artists whose work speaks for itself, but ultimately this adaptation does its job and then some. My 3-year old nephew, Ali, who's a big fan of Godzilla and Kong (in that order), had me read it to him repeatedly whilst visiting -and then a few more times over Skype. I was curious to see what he'd make of the indistinct images, but perhaps having seen bits of the film helped things slot into place- he had no trouble with it anyhow, and enjoyed all 37 readings immensely. As for people looking to get their hands on a copy for their Blain collection, as far as I can tell it didn't go into a second printing, so copies are very limited, which means when one does crop up here or there, it's rather expensive, but absolutely worth it, I think. If it doesn't get a reprint -and a decade on, that looks unlikely, it will probably only get harder to find and dearer in price. I'd be remiss not to give a big thanks to Thomas Ragon, who pointed me towards the listing for this on French Ebay- it's definitely one to treasure.

(Note: please do not use any of my images without permission, thank you)

'Compleating Cul De Sac' -a new Richard Thompson book

My complete Cul De Sac is one of my most treasured possessions. I have incredibly fond memories of slowly working my way through these 2 books of Richard Thompson's strips, one of those works which are touted as a cut above must-read, and the fat satisfaction of reveling in its sheer quality and goodness. I want to write more on it, but this piece I did on '5 favourite things from Cul De Sac' will give anyone new a good feel and idea of whether it may be something of interest. To sum, it's simply superb cartooning: outstanding character work, warm and appealing, all wrapped in Thompson's lovely distinctive, almost-sketchy, fine art. So I'm inordinately pleased to learn that there'll be a new Cul De Sac book on the way. Titled 'Compleating Cul de Sac,' the book promises to include 'all the art that was left out of Eisner-award-nominated The Complete Cul de Sac' (which makes me wonder how literal those 'complete' monikers/definitions are), comprising 150 pages of strips, interviews and sketches. The book will be published to aid and support Parkinson's disease research, which is what caused Thompson to finish his strip. So not only do you get the time itself, but the proceeds go towards a worthwhile cause. Keep an eye on Thompson's website for upcoming ho to order information.

Monday, 27 April 2015

Exclusive preview: Natalie Andrewson's Lemon & Ket

Swedish publishers Peow! Studio continue to reinforce their reputation as the purveyors of some of the most exciting comics around. Each release is not only immaculately, beautifully presented, but their approach in cherry-picking fine, fresh and talented artists to collaborate with is what sets their comics  apart. Earlier in the year, they announced they'd be working with cartoonist and illustrator Natalie Andrewson and I'm very pleased to be able to share an exclusive 9-page preview of that book, Lemon & Ket, below. Here's a synopsis of Lemon & Ket, as penned by Andrewson herself: 'Ket likes to defend her village and beating up big, tough guys is no big deal but when an intruding tyrant beats her to a pulp she has to rethink everything. She decides to train remotely before she begins her quest for vengeance until a mysterious old lady reveals to her who the intruder’s working for. Ket is hunted, she falls out of trees, she devours gigantic fruit, she rips trees from their roots and steals the secrets behind a looming power. If you like action thrillers and lemonade this book is for you!'

I think these pages do an excellent job of illustrating what it is I love about Andrewson's work- in addition to it being attractive to look at, it has a lovely, easy flow- a speedy, sketchy dynamism that provides personality and appeal. That orange and blue is working nicely, too. I know last year at Thought Bubble, Peow! were considering perhaps exhibiting at less festivals in 2015, and focusing on creating and publishing work, but they were at MOCCA earlier in the month -where Lemon & Ket had its official debut-, and will be tabling at ELCAF in June also; so it seems like they've managed to do both- with new books from Jane Mai and Disa Wallander expected soon. I think selecting a few international events to attend will work well for them- people really began to become more aware of, and talk about their books in the past 12 months, so having a tangible presence will no doubt help that visibility. 

It's been a strange, downbeat year for comics -not a lot of work has really struck me with that immediate intensity of quality and sheer goodness- but as sycophantic as it may sound, the work that's made me glad to have kept my hand in and reminded me why I love and enjoy the medium has come from artists and publishers like Peow! doing their individual thing: Kris Mukai, Bailey Sharp, Wren McDonald, Michael DeForge, and others. Support the good.